CLEVELAND — A flustered Greg Ostertag appeared to want to slam the basketball off the backboard, but wound up clanking the rim instead.

Fitting.

On a Tuesday evening in which the Jazz started strong but faded fast, and eventually hopped on a plane bound for Boston following a terrifically long three-day stay in Cleveland, that was hardly all that went awry for Utah.

In the third outing of a five-game road trip, coach Jerry Sloan's 11-14 club not only lost to the Cavaliers 110-85, but did so in alarmingly loopy fashion.

"I believe this team," Sloan said of the Cavs, "could have beaten us by 100 point if they had left everybody out there.

"That's one of the worst outings we've had in a long time of playing basketball," he added. "I'm grateful to them that they didn't leave them out there."

There was no need.

Certainly not after All-Star LeBron James finished with 25 points in 29 minutes, starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 18 in 22 minutes and reserve guard Damon Jones knocked down four third-quarter 3-pointers to put 14-9 Cleveland up by as many as 27 before the fourth even got under way.

By the time the final 12 minutes rolled around, what was left of a crowd of 19,543 at Quicken Loans Arena was relegated to watching Ira Newble, Alan Henderson, Luke Jackson, Zendon Hamilton and Mike Wilks face off against Keith McLeod, Andre Owens, C.J. Miles, Kris Humphries and a decidedly demoted Ostertag.

"It was very strange," James said of witnessing such a long period of garbage time, "but I had fun watching the game with my teammates out there playing the game of basketball."

Sloan, however, had anything but a grand time.

Yet it wasn't just because of the 25 from James, who hit an efficient albeit less-than-flashy 8-of-12 from the field.

Rather, it stemmed much more from the way the Jazz — who led 29-22 after an opening quarter in which they shot an impressive 56.5 percent, and got so many of the cutting layups that Sloan's offense is designed to produce — went from doing so much so right to so much so wrong.

After a second quarter won by Cleveland 27-15 and a third quarter that the Cavs took 33-15, Utah was done.

"We executed very well to start the game," said Sloan, who was without usual starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko because of back spasms. "I started making some substitutions, and we couldn't execute. We couldn't even begin to try to guard them.

"It's a sad commentary," he added. "Guys weren't ready to go off the bench."

The Jazz coach clearly was displeased with several of his subs.

"These guys are no longer sitting on the bench watching," said Sloan, who also has been without power forward Carlos Boozer all season because of a strained hamstring and has a less-than-full-strength forward Matt Harpring due to offseason knee surgery. "They're having to play now. I've got so many guys hurt, they no longer become spectators with a free ticket to the game.

"That second group, we never came off our man and tried to help at all. We just gave 'em layups. We played selfishly on both ends of the floor . . . It looked like it was too much of a chore to try to win this game. And not only one or two guys. I was upset with a lot of people."

But Sloan was particularly dismayed, it seemed, with the play of Ostertag — who had been starting, but now plays behind Jarron Collins and in fourth quarters like Tuesday's — and Humphries.

Neither offered much defense on the Cavs' big men, especially Ilgauskas, who made 6-of-9 and generally had his way.

"Jarron (Collins) played him halfway decent," Sloan said. "I don't think Greg (Ostertag) even close enough to guard him. Greg was in another world."

Sloan was not alone feeling as he did.

Swingman Devin Brown, assigned much of the night to James, felt he did not get nearly enough aid.

"The game plan with that is force him to the middle," Brown said. "That's where everybody was. But it seemed like he got a couple of layups, and so I'm kind of looking around wondering where our big guys were.

"I mean, I can try to have him cast shots from outside — but we were supposed to funnel him into the lane. A player like that, he's no different to me than the other stars we're going to go against. We've got to help each other, and protect each other a little bit better the next time we have to go against somebody like that."

Ostertag, for his part, accepted responsibility for dropping that ball.

And others.

"That was just sheer frustration — 90 percent of it, 95 percent of it, mad at myself because I haven't played worth a (toot) in the last two weeks," he said of the fourth-quarter rim shot that cost him a technical foul.

"So, Jerry (Sloan) has every right," Ostertag added. "If he wants to put the blame on me, put it on me. I'll take it."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com